You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

Albert Einstein? Florence Griffith Joyner? Thomas Edison? Louise Chandler Moulton? Mike Ditka? Elmer Burritt Bryan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following motivational remark has been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein:

You never fail until you stop trying.

This saying has also been credited to the Olympic-medal-winning athlete Florence Griffith Joyner and the well-known inventor Thomas Edison. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein wrote or spoke this statement. It is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the remark many years afterward in 2012.

This adage is difficult to trace because it is a member of a large and ever evolving family of sayings. QI believes that the creator should be considered anonymous. Here is a sampling of pertinent sayings with dates:

1890 Jun: No man can be wholly defeated unless he defeat himself
1904 Feb 6: Human beings never fail until they fail to try
1910 Jun 1: You have never been defeated until you give up
1912 May 30: You are never defeated until you lose faith in yourself
1918 May 2: You are not defeated unless you admit defeat
1921 Apr 28: You’re never defeated until you surrender
1922 Jul 15: You are never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1930 Jun 28: No absolute failure until you stop trying to succeed
1930 Dec 4: You are never defeated unless you think you are
1931 Aug 14: You are never defeated unless you defeat yourself
1937 Nov 27: You are never defeated until you stop trying
1946 Oct 11: You’re never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1951 Dec 13: You are never a failure until you stop trying
1959 Dec 22: You never lose until you stop trying
1967 Dec 7: You never fail until you stop trying

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

In 1890 the popular writer Louise Chandler Moulton published a story in “The Cosmopolitan” magazine of New York with the following didactic line. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . it is an eternal law that no man can be wholly defeated unless he defeat himself.

In 1904 a newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota published an advertisement for a sanitarium containing the following line: 2

Human beings never fail until they fail to try.

In 1910 “The Weekly Democrat” of Natchez, Mississippi printed an oration with these words of encouragement: 3

You may have reverses in life but you have never been defeated until you give up, and though you may not make the winning run, if you fight to the last ditch the world will applaud.

In 1912 a short item in a West Liberty, Kentucky newspaper stated the following: 4

You are never defeated until you lose faith in yourself, said some philosopher of long ago. He was right.

In 1918 Helen Fraser of London gave a speech in Nashville, Tennessee about the ongoing World War: 5

“You are not defeated unless you admit defeat. We are fighting for common civilization, and the future of the world rests with us.”

In 1919 an Elmira, New York column by George Matthew Adams discussed enduring hardship: 6

In war the enemy is never whipped until you have beaten the BIGGEST MAN. So it is in your own life. You are never defeated until the biggest thing in you has failed.

In 1921 Elmer Burritt Bryan who was the President of Colgate University addressed a group in Oakland, California and presented the following adage: 7

You’re never defeated until you surrender.

In 1922 the “Chicago Daily Tribune” Illinois selected the following quotation and presented a $5 monetary award to the submitter: 8

“You are never defeated unless you admit it to yourself.”
JENNIE E. HANFORD, Private Secretary, 7028 Normal Blvd., Chicago.

In 1930 a writer in “The Chatham Press” of New Jersey offered the following guidance to new graduates of the local high school: 9

Remember as you seek the goal of fame, that in the final analysis, there can be no absolute failure until you stop trying to succeed.

Also, in 1930 newspaper Brookville, Pennsylvania printed this saying: 10

You are never defeated unless you think you are.

In 1931 a newspaper in Manhattan, Kansas reported on a message displayed at a local church: 11

Message on St. Paul’s Episcopal church bulletin board: “You are never defeated unless you defeat yourself.”

In 1937 the “Atlanta Daily World” of Georgia reported that Dr. J. E. Walker who was the President of the Independent Business and Civic League delivered a speech with this resonant line: 12

“Remember this one thing,” the speaker declared. “You are never defeated until you stop trying.”

In 1946 a sports columnist in “The Decatur Daily” of Alabama wrote this: 13

The moral, of course, if there is one: You’re never defeated unless you admit it to yourself.

In 1951 the columnist by James W. Sullivan shared the following uplifting remark: 14

You are never a failure until you stop trying.

In 1959 Nancy Ann Wright who was involved in a zoning dispute in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina offered the following wisdom: 15

Miss Wright replied, “Everything mustn’t be turned into material gains . . . I hope we all don’t join when we lose . . . You never lose until you stop trying.”

In 1967 a columnist in the “Delmarva News” of Selbyville, Delaware printed an exact match for the saying under examination: 16

C.G. Says: “You never fail until you stop trying.”

In 1980 “Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes” included a somewhat complicated saying: 17

The last time you failed, did you stop trying because you failed — or did you fail because you stopped trying?

In 1990 “Friendly Advice” compiled by Jon Winokur included guidance from a successful U.S. football coach: 18

You really never lose until you stop trying.
MIKE DITKA

In 1993 the book “Symbols of America Theme Digest” contained a section about athlete Florence Griffith Joyner. She received credit for the adage: 19

“I feel like a survivor,” she said after her win. “You never fail until you stop trying.”

In 1997 “Winning Through Persistence” by M. L. Carr attributed the saying to a prominent inventor: 20

It was the great Thomas Edison who said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” Had Mr. Edison possessed a fear of failure, the light would have never come on and we would all still be in the dark.

In January 2012 a newspaper in Virginia published a profile of a business owner in Spotsylvania who tentatively attributed the adage to a famous scientist: 21

WHO WAS YOUR MENTOR AND WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE THEY GAVE YOU?
I’ve never had a mentor. But something that has stuck with me and I don’t recall for sure who said it, maybe Einstein, that “you never fail until you stop trying.” I feel this is the best way to approach business, life, etc.

In November 2012 a piece in the “Hope Star” newspaper of Arkansas unequivocally credited Einstein: 22

Albert Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

In conclusion, there is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein said or wrote “You never fail until you stop trying”. There is a family of comparable sayings that has been evolving for more than one hundred years.

Image Notes: Public domain picture of two silhouettes. One figure is helping another figure to climb to the top of a mountain. Image from sasint at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Ayla Murrell whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Murrell located many citations beginning in 1985. Murrell found that Einstein received credit by December 2012.)

Notes:

  1. 1890 June, The Cosmopolitan, Volume 9, Number 2, A Ghost at his Fireside by Louise Chandler Moulton, Start Page 229, Quote Page 241, The Cosmopolitan Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1904 February 6, Aberdeen Daily News, Not Incurable (Advertisement for South Dakota Sanitarium Company), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1910 June 1, The Weekly Democrat, Jefferson Academy, Quote Page 3, Column 5, Natchez, Mississippi. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1912 May 30, Licking Valley Courier, Keep Up Courage by Ex., Quote Page 1, Column 3, West Liberty, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1918 May 2, Nashville Tennessean, Woman’s Part in War Is Told by Miss Fraser, Quote Page 3, Column 5, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1919 August 27, Elmira Star-Gazette, Today’s Talk by George Matthew Adams, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1921 April 28, Oakland Tribune, Oakland Lions Hear Advice of Noted Educator, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1922 July 15, Chicago Daily Tribune, (Top banner quotation), Quote Page 11, Column 2, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1930 June 28, The Chatham Press, Pleasure by Terry Churchill Elmendorf, Quote Page 3, Column 2 and 3, Chatham, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1930 December 4, The Brookville American, Disappointments, Quote Page 3, Column 6, Brookville, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1931 August 14, The Manhattan Mercury, Miscellaneous, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Manhattan, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  12. 1937 November 27, Atlanta Daily World, Dr. Walker Gives Fine Address, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)
  13. 1946 October 11, The Decatur Daily, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Decatur, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  14. 1951 December 13, The Journal, Make Life Beautiful by James W. Sullivan, Quote Page 2B, Column 4, Caldwell, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  15. 1959 December 22, The News and Observer, Woman Wins Zoning Fight, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  16. 1967 December 7, Delmarva News, Frankford by C. G. Crocker, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Selbyville, Delaware. (Newspapers_com)
  17. 1980, Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes by E. C. McKenzie, Topic: Failure, Quote Page 172, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans)
  18. 1990, Friendly Advice, Compiled and edited by Jon Winokur, Section: “Thanks, Coach”, Quote Page 236, Dutton, New York. (Verified with scans)
  19. 1993, Symbols of America Theme Digest, Florence Griffith Joyner: She Made It To the Top, Quote Page 11, Scholastic, New York. (Verified with scans)
  20. 1997, Winning Through Persistence by M. L. Carr (Boston Celtics), Chapter: Fear of Failure, Quote Page 11, M.L. Enterprises, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  21. 2012 January 18, The Free Lance-Star, The Deal: Focus on Local Business Owners Wendy Adamcryk Is the Owner of Beads on Parade, (No Page Number Specified), Fredericksburg, Virginia. (NewsBank Access World News)
  22. 2012 November 5, Hope Star, Grab the Good: Failure can be good by Molly Logan Anderson, Quote Page 2, Hope, Arkansas. (NewsBank Access World News)